The writer of the TV drama, The Hour, shown on BBC Two and BBC America, has admitted that the script contains anachronisms. Abi Morgan employed phrases such as ‘bottled it’ and ‘note to self’ that wouldn’t have been heard in 1956, the year in which the drama is set. But there may be another anachronism – repeated references to the relationship between James Bond and Miss Moneypenny – that has slipped by unnoticed.
The Hour focuses on two journalists, Bel Rowley, played by Romola Garai, and Freddie Lyon, played by Ben Whishaw. They join the team of new current affairs programme The Hour – Freddie as reporter, Bel as producer – and become involved in a plot involving communist spies at the BBC. Freddie is Bel’s soulmate, but for Freddie, who’s in love with Bel, the relationship is more than that. Freddie identifies himself as James Bond and calls Bel ‘Moneypenny’, alluding to the flirtatious relationship, with its hint of unrequited love, between Bond and M’s secretary.
By 1956, four Bond novels had been published. Miss Moneypenny is a peripheral figure in all of these, and in none is there a suggestion that Bond is in love with Moneypenny or has a relationship other than one involving friendly work-place banter.
In Casino Royale (1953), Bond shares no pages with Moneypenny, and so we learn nothing of their relationship. The follow-up was Live and Let Die (1954). Bond and Moneypenny share a scene, but it is very brief. In Chapter 2, Moneypenny gives Bond an encouraging smile as he enters M’s office, and Bond admits that Moneypenny is desirable. Chapter 2 of Moonraker (1955) reveals that Moneypenny knows that Bond admires her, and Bond seems to confirm this by commenting on her new dress. However, we have a briefer exchange in Diamonds Are Forever (1956). Bond ‘smiled into the warm brown eyes of Miss Moneypenny’ as he leaves M’s office.
I suspect that the writer of The Hour had the film-series version of the Bond-Moneypenny relationship (or meme) in mind when she wrote the script. In the films, Bond pursues a romantic relationship with Moneypenny, who gently fends off his advances, content, it seems, to be just good friends (although in Die Another Day (2002), we see Moneypenny enact a fantasy of a sexual relationship with Bond). The Freddie-Bel relationship appears to mimic this version better than it does the books. Given that the first film, Dr No, was released in 1962, the references in The Hour must be anachronistic.
Admittedly Fleming develops the relationship in later books, and if The Hour was set in 1961, when Thunderball was published, then the Bond-Moneypenny references would be more apt. Even so, in Thunderball it is Moneypenny who desires a relationship with Bond, not the other way round (‘Moneypenny... often dreamed hopelessly about Bond’ (Chapter 1)), although Bond does offer to give Moneypenny a spanking.